January 22, 2004

FEMBA Students Help Start-Ups Around the Globe Develop Business Plans

Global Access Program Provides UCLA Anderson Students with Real-World International Project Consulting Experience


Los Angeles — Over the last half of 2003, students in their final year in the Fully-Employed MBA Program (FEMBA) at UCLA Anderson School of Management participated in a six-month, international field study program that not only helped companies abroad with business and market development plans, but also enable the students to bridge some gaps in their own professional careers.

On December 13 in Korn Convocation Hall, participants in the Global Access Program (GAP) presented their final strategic business plans for 21 small, international start-up companies as varied as Process Flow Ltd Oy (a computational fluid dynamics consulting company in Turku, Finland) and Granjamar, S.A. (a Chilean fishery founded in 1990). Teams consisting of five FEMBA students made their presentations to an audience of 200, including panel judges, international partner representatives, international company executives and invited guests.

In working with foreign entrepreneurial companies, the students' goal is to develop plans that will enable the firm to move to their next stage of corporate development. Participating firms benefit from the student teams' estimated 1,200 hours of work.

Students visited their respective companies and countries during various points of the field study project and devoted nearly six months to developing their plans. Students also received guidance and instruction from Bob Foster, adjunct associate professor in the decisions, operations and technology management department at UCLA Anderson. Professor Foster, who is also faculty director of GAP, leads a popular business plan development course. Through GAP, UCLA Anderson students have developed business plans for more than 75 companies in the past six years.

"Our students have a unique opportunity to work very closely with a small entrepreneurial startup venture in a foreign country," said Prof. Foster. "They develop significant management consulting skills and are able to closely observe the challenges of growing a startup venture. Our client firms benefit from the strategic thinking and primary research efforts of five talented students in their last year of the MBA program."

The students conduct primary, hands-on research in order to develop market expansion plans and uncover strategies. As professionals with various industry experience, the UCLA Anderson FEMBA students bring a significant amount of expertise to the international companies. The FEMBA students are employed full time and have an average of five years of work experience, bringing significant industry expertise to the process. In addition, each team is assigned a UCLA Anderson faculty adviser, who serves as an information resource and mentor.

Upon being selected for the field study opportunity and placed in their teams, students immerse themselves in the project. They meet their company's key members and review established products, markets and finances. The students spend approximately five days in country, verifying and clarifying their understandings of the company's goals and objectives.

In addition to their site research and group work over the six months, all students are required to attend Prof. Foster's Saturday course, which is newly incorporated into the GAP field study program. It's a change that International Field Study Manager Bonny Kim believes is significant.

"The course provides structure to GAP that it did not previously have and offers students a comprehensive experience in international business and entrepreneurship," Kim noted.

In 2003, there were 110 students working on 22 business plans for companies in Australia, Chile, Finland, Italy and Mexico. However, the companies are not the only ones who have found the efforts of FEMBA students invaluable. The students get a lot from the experience as well. Although some participants' professional careers do not perfectly align with what they specifically do within the GAP project, the experiences are beneficial to them in their professional careers.

"I am able to view project plans much more critically," said FEMBA student Sally Jercha, a refinery economist for ExxonMobil Oil Corporation. Her GAP team determined the sushi-grade hirame market size in the United States and developed a strategy to help a Chilean fishery, Granjamar, S.A., penetrate the California and New York/New Jersey markets.

"I am better equipped to highlight assumptions that involve a high measure of risk, so that the appropriate actions can be taken to minimize financial exposure at the project development level," said Jercha.

While representing Granjamar, S.A., Jercha found that each member of her team brought their respective strengths to the project, whether they knew finance, marketing, project implementation or something else. New areas of knowledge indelibly rubbed off on each member of the group, while they still divided up the workload accordingly.

Jercha noted that Granjamar is presenting the business plan her team developed to Chilean investors and the company is following up on sales leads generated by her team during their extensive market research.

"They feel extremely comfortable with our research and are ready to enter the U.S. market next year," added Jercha.

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